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A sporting chance

The latest rankings released by World Athletics places 26-year-old Filipino pole vault sensation EJ Obiena sixth in the world after breaking Asian and Philippine records in 2021.

Obiena cleared 5.93 meters in last year’s Golden Roof Challenge in Austria, beating the longstanding record of 5.92 meters held by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich since February 1998. He also smashed his 5.91 meter personal and national record following his silver medal finish at the 2021 Paris Diamond League.

Despite this lofty ranking that was achieved through natural talent and intense training, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) has dropped Obiena from the national training pool following an ugly row stemming from delayed payments to his coach, which Patafa said was wrongful misappropriation of funds. Aside from dropping the Tokyo Olympian, Patafa president Philip Ella Juico said he will also face legal charges.

Fortunately for the Philippines, the Philippine Olympic Committee said the Patafa decision will have minimal impact on the pole vaulter’s chances to represent the country in major international meets.

“We’ll fight for EJ,” POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said. “We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi (Southeast Asian Games this year) and Huangzhou (Asian games this year) and in all other major world competitions.”

Obiena may have the support of the POC that would allow him to continue representing the country in international competitions and Olympic qualifiers, but no top flight athlete that has made it to the elite top 10 of the world in his chosen sport needs the distraction of an ugly row and legal charges coming from his own national federation whose primary purpose is to ironically lend support for Filipino athletes.

Filipinos can only hope that despite the distractions, Obiena can continue to excel and represent our country in international events and works toward his ultimate dream of Olympic gold. At this point, we can only pray that EJ does not follow the path of chess super grandmaster Wesley So, who gave up his Filipino citizenship after being frustrated and disappointed by his former nation’s sports officials who somehow managed to make his journey to the top echelons of his sport extra difficult.

Aside from a sporting chance, the only thing our talented Filipino athletes ask for is support from the country they represent. If the way the Patafa is treating EJ Obiena is any indication, it is no wonder why our athletes very rarely make it to the top levels of their sport.*

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